Essay Library

There are currently 100 essays in the Library – please come in and browse.

Use the ‘additional suggestions’ box to tell us if your favourite essay or author is missing, or comment boxes on each essay’s page to discuss the selection, including where you feel we should have selected another essay by the same author. We will expand the Essay Library in future, using suggestions and comments received. Example intro length, with link to more if needed.

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The Little Virtues (Le piccolo virtu, written 1960, published in Nuovi Argomenti, and reprinted in her collection named after this essay, trans. Dick Davis, 1985)

by Natalia Ginzburg

1960

Written in the inclusive pronoun (‘We’), yet sometimes asserting singularity (‘Now I believe…’), Ginzburg lectures movingly on the error of teaching children little, risk...

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The Hedgehog and the Fox

by Isaiah Berlin

1953

Berlin takes the Ancient Greek fragment stating that ‘The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing’ as an entertaining basis for dividing thinkers into hedge...

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The English Mail-Coach (Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine)

by Thomas De Quincey

1849

A long essay that gallops around de Quincey’s nostalgia for riding on the mail-coaches when an Oxford student, with a tour-de-force at its core where he narrates a near-collisi...

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The English Aristocracy (Encounter)

by Nancy Mitford

1955

It is unjust that this astute analysis is best known for the ‘tease’ of ‘U’ and ‘non-U’ linguistic demarcations between the upper middle class and those below. The essa...

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The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon (Der 18te Brumaire des Louis Napoleon, originally published in Die Revolution, 1852, and in English translation in 1869)

by Karl Marx

1852

The ‘18th Brumaire’ was the day in 1799 when Napoleon Bonaparte made himself dictator, and here Marx compares this coup with that of Bonaparte’s nephew on 2 December 1851, a...

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The Eggman and the Fairies (First published in The Twentieth Century, July 1960, and collected in Escape from the Anthill, 1986)

by Hubert Butler

1960

Butler locates this essay in his own backyard – Tipperary’s hill of Slievenaman – and talks as if we are his neighbours, who already know local Irish legends well. H...

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The Duke in his Domain (The New Yorker)

by Truman Capote

1957

Capote’s profile of Marlon Brando is framed by an evening in a Kyoto hotel when Brando was filming on location. Aside from Peter-Selleresque racisms, the tone is beautifully judg...

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The Decay of Lying – An Observation (Intentions, 1891)

by Oscar Wilde

1891

A mock-Socratic dialogue, in which ‘Vivian’ reads ‘Cyril’ highlights from a longer article. Vivian argues that Art expresses only itself and serves no other end, while Life...

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The Cinema (Arts, New York, June 1926)

by Virginia Woolf

1926

A piece both prophetic and self-consciously of its time. Woolf begins disparagingly: the art of making movies is still too young and banal; we are savages knocking together saxopho...

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The Bitter Smell of Tulips (Still Life with a Bridle [Martwa natura z wędzidłem])

by Zbigniew Herbert

1993

An acclaimed Polish poet portrays the ‘tulipomania’ that seized the Netherlands in the seventeenth century as exemplary of all ‘follies in the sanctuaries of reason’. ...

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The Assassination of Paris (People and Places, 1985, and reprinted in Paris and Elsewhere, ed. David Gilmour, 1998)

by Richard Cobb

1985

Not so much a book review as a book abridgement, the historian Richard Cobb adds his own passionate style and personal observations to the, presumably drier, Yale research of one P...

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The Art of Donald McGill

by George Orwell

1941

Orwell was one of the first critics to take popular culture seriously – in this case, British seaside postcards showing vulgar, illustrated jokes (produced by McGill). H...

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